I’m sure that we have all heard the expression “it’s too good to be true.”  For some, finding something that is “too good to be true” is followed by exuberance or excitement.  For many it is followed by skepticism, doubt and caution. But, even when there is disbelief, we often are very tempted to go for it anyway – whatever it is.  So now let’s ask if it’s too good to be true, then what?

Rather than ponder this in the general sense, I would like to explore “too good to be true” as it applies to your home improvements.  For the sake of this article we will consider all home improvements including remodeling, renovations or repairs.  This of course applies equally to additions or even building a new home.  Often what is too good to be true is the price of the improvement and that is usually where the trouble begins.

Most of us would not be fooled by a super low price for a luxury car; we would want to know why so cheap.  We would probably assume that it is a lemon and many of us would run the other way.  The same applies in finding what is supposed to be a great steak dinner for a rock-bottom price.  Now, I am not saying that there aren’t opportunities to benefit from specials or that the car or dinner must be expensive to be great, but let’s face it, there are standards and expectations when it comes to luxury cars or great steak dinners. Obviously, if we are not interested in the luxury car or steak dinner, then we will decide what is important to us and go for it.  On the other hand if we are faced with a seemingly “too good to be true” opportunity and we let the excitement carry us away, we can be hurt by it.

Looking again at your home improvement project, it is critically important that you don’t get carried away by the excitement of the great deal.  Just keep in mind that if it’s too good to be true, then it probably is too good to be true.  Always do your homework to check any contractor. Your local Better Business Bureau online will list complaints and their nature. Check the company’s website and do a Google search of the company name then the owner’s name to see how long their company has been in business, that they have a valid license number, etc. If you are unsure, you can call your local Consumer Affairs office to get more info about that contractor.

In terms of the design and quality of products the important thing is to remember you get what you pay for.  Please, understand that I am not saying if it’s expensive it is necessarily good.  What I am saying is that there is a threshold below which no reputable architect, designer, builder or remodeler will go.  Unfortunately, I regularly hear about the homeowners who chose not to go with the reputable contractor and then come back looking for help.  Sometimes they need help getting the project completed; sometimes they come back a year or two later to re-do the renovation that should have lasted 8 – 10 years.  I have spoken to a few remodeling contractors who get lots of referrals from the prospects who chose another contractor.  Unfortunately these people realized too late that their deal really was too good to be true, and warn their family and friends not to make the same mistake.

When it comes to any of the legal or regulatory aspects such as licenses, insurances and permits, it is simply not worth it to take short cuts.   An ethical professional will have the proper licenses and insurances, and will know if permits are needed.  This professional will also be knowledgeable regarding code compliance and safety.  This professional will also be educated and experienced with regards to the right materials and needed workmanship for the project.

Unfortunately when you ignore some of these factors, you may end up with problems on your project.  These problems can include your projects not passing inspections, accidents and mistakes on the job, major delays once a job is started, and unsafe workmanship.  Although some of these issues may not be obvious at first, they will often show up later.  Obviously, incorrectly wired electricity is a fire hazard, incorrectly installed plumbing leads to water damage, and poor product quality or installation leads to costly repairs.  Doing a project without the required permits can lead to many problems.  Some may appear immediately and some much later, when you decide to sell the house.

I have only touched on some of the short-cuts that can be taken to give you that deal that is “too good to be true.”  The key here is to realize that if it’s too good to be true, then there is something that is missing.  I realize that none of us likes to pay more than we have to for our project or repair, but I also realize that when someone comes along with a great deal there is a reason for it.  Just realize that the contractor who can undercut all the competition either isn’t legitimate, is leaving something out or will soon be out of business.  Unfortunately the scenario of contractors going out of business is usually a nightmare for their clients as well as themselves. If you are the unlucky client whose project is in progress, you will have the difficult task of finding someone to pick up the pieces.  If instead, your project has already been completed, you will have to find someone else to handle the service issues and other problems that will probably arise.

Editor’s Note:

Lorraine Hart is the president of Ideal Consulting Services, a consulting firm with offices in NY, Florida and Texas.  Lorraine is a past president of the NYC, Long Island Chapter of NARI.